Of course, Marina grumbled to herself, examining her hands. Of course this would happen. No, the universe didn’t care that Marina’s dad was a ship’s captain. It didn’t pay attention to the fact that Marina swam so well that she was basically a mermaid. It completely skipped over the bit about how she lived right next to the sea and loved it with every molecule in her body. No, the cosmic powers of the galaxy just had to screw her over and give her the gift of fire.
Marina turned over her hands again and again. Every time, she prayed to whatever gods there were that the flames wouldn’t appear, but they did. Flickering over her knuckles, floating over her palms, dancing on her fingertips. She made both hands into fists, snuffing out the fire. She pressed her knuckles into her eye sockets, making odd lights dance around the inside of her eyelids. Marina was home alone for the moment, so she let herself let out a long groan.
“God,” she said aloud. “Why? Oh my God, why? Of all things, fire. Fire.” She plunked down on a chair by her kitchen table. A wooden chair. All of a sudden, Marina became painfully aware of the fact that her house was mostly made of timber from old ships. Oh, no. She stood up in a hurry and rushed outside. The mist floating of the salty sea immediately calmed her. She had lived in this house by the beach her whole life. Since she could remember, she had woken up every morning to the wind, thick with the smell of salt and seaweed, blowing through the window. Her father had taught her how to stay afloat in the sometimes-tumultuous waves when she was four years old. Now, ten years later, Marina was her dad’s “little guppy,” or “mermaid girl,” or the ever-annoying “fish kid.”
She sighed, letting the sea breeze rush over her, filling her up, lifting her. Her longing gaze followed the azure sea, as it rose and broke on the beach below her. The ocean couldn’t hear, couldn’t see, couldn’t feel, but she hoped it knew that she was sorry. Sorry for the flames that seemed to live inside her, that had only just appeared over her tan skin this morning. It had scared her. It still scared her. Maybe it would always scare her. God, wouldn’t that be just awful.
Marina sighed again and stepped down onto the sandy beach. The white grains spilled over her bare feet as she walked down to the water. She felt a need for a last, an official last swim in the ocean. Yesterday, she hadn’t known that she would wake up with a fire inside. She hadn’t appreciated it enough to be the last. She stopped just before the water lapped up the beach. Marina wondered if it would hurt, the touch of the water. Worth it, she decided, and placed a foot into the surf. It didn’t. . . hurt. More of an uncomfortable tingle, like when your foot falls asleep and it’s just starting to wake up. She placed another foot in the water. The tingle grew stronger, maybe inching towards painful. Marina steeled her nerves, every inch of her yearning for the embrace of the ocean. She took another step forward. Oh my God. Yes, the ocean’s touch was getting more than uncomfortable. Tears pricked her eyes. This, the stinging feeling of the waves, felt like a betrayal of a best friend. Why, why would her ocean do this to her?
Despite the pain, Marina needed the cradle of the sea. She began to run, charging into the surf before diving beneath a breaking wave. The pain covered her, every inch of her skin refusing the love of the sea. Marina surfaced with a gasp. Her face was so wet with salt water, she almost didn’t notice that tears had started mix. Her wet clothes dragged her down, heavy with brine. Marina swam frantically for the shore, feeling relieved when her feet touched dry sand. She turned back for the ocean. She knew she couldn’t go back in.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. And she walked back up to the house.